How to Call for Help That Gets a Response While on Adventure Trips

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An essential piece of equipment for those making adventure trips into the backcountry is an emergency communication device.

From personal experience, I can tell you that this is one piece of equipment that has massive Family Acceptance Factor, because it allows you to answer questions such as:

  1. What happens if you get injured or sick in the backcountry and need to call for help?
  2. How will we know where you are?
  3. How can we get in touch with you in an emergency?

In general there are two classes of these devices (1) Personal locator beacons (PLBs) and (2) Satellite messengers.

Personal locator beacons

PLBs are focused on one thing and one thing only - sending out a personalized emergency distress signal in situations of grave and imminent danger.

PLBs transmit a dual signal, one which goes out over a military satellite network, and another that goes out over a homing frequency that allows rescuers to track you.

While there are PLBs with GPS and without GPS, for those with food allergies, I would HIGHLY recommend getting one with a built in GPS for two very specific reasons:

  1. It can pinpoint and guide rescuers to within 100 meters of your position (vs 2 miles for one without a GPS)
  2. Within the continental U.S, it takes only 5 minutes to alert search-and-rescue (vs 45 minutes for one without a GPS)

Satellite messengers

These are relative new devices that rely on commercial satellite networks such as Iridium or Globalstar.

They have many functions such as:

  • Ability to send SOS signals in case of emergency to an organization which informs the nearest search-and-rescue organization of your GPS coordinates
  • Ability to send pre-defined check-in/OK messages
  • Status updates which can be integrated with social media such as Twitter and Facebook
  • Ability for friends and family to track you in real-time on a map during your travels

Beyond that, some of the devices, when paired over bluetooth with an iPhone or an Android device, allows for free form two-way text messages. Recipients get the message on their regular phone text/chat application and are able to respond from their personal device as well. No additional equipment needed on their end.

These devices serve complementary but distinct uses and you may use one or both, based on the risk-assessment of the trip.

But hey, remember that family acceptance factor and the accompanying peace of mind? Totally worth it!

SafeBites » Travel

According to Andrew Skurka in his Ultimate Hiking Gear and Skills Clinic, backpacking is composed of two primary activities - hiking and camping.

Backpackers end up in one of three categories:

  1. Ultimate campers, whose primary objective is to walk between campsites and who are in the pursuit of Type 1 Fun: “fun to do, fun to talk about later"
  2. Ultimate hikers, whose primary objective is to hike and who are in the pursuit of Type 2 Fun: “Not fun to do, but fun to talk about later"
  3. Campers by default, who haven’t thought about either hiking or camping and end up having Type 3 Fun: “not fun to do, not fun to talk about later"

» I think it is important to enjoy both the hiking experience and the camping experience and a lot of that starts with getting physically fit for hiking. The more fit you are, the more enjoyment you get out of being in the outdoors.

» It is also important to realize that as with any sport or outdoor activity there is a degree of risk and that you need to be prepared with emergency first aid skills for the backcountry.

SafeBites » Food

Food on the trail is a very personal choice that is a balancing act between preferences, nutritional  and caloric value, how hard it will be to cook and keeping the weight down.

» Organizational skills around packing food and strategic choices ("no refrigeration, just add water") around food preparation play a key role in the success and comfort level encountered on the trip.

» For those with food allergies, a critical skill to develop is to take backpacking recipe recommendations and make basic recipe substitutions for food allergies.

SafeBites » Gear

» Personal satellite messengers of choice are made by two companies, DeLorme and SPOT, who use different satellite networks and have slightly different capabilities.

» We currently have the old version of the DeLorme InReach for Smartphone device and have been extremely happy with it over the multiple trips we have taken.

It uses the Iridium satellite network and we have the following protocol when setting out on an adventure trip:

  • Establish a formal and nightly check-in time window with folks back home before leaving on trip
  • After setting up camp, find a beautiful spot to enjoy the sunset
  • Check-in with family and friends
  • Describe the setting in vivid detail in less than 100 characters - yup, envy as a motivator for future companionship :-)

The text messages are not instantaneous as there is a bit of delay after your text message is sent, routed through the satellite, and send to the remote phone.

It does look as though DeLorme updated this brand to provide a color screen, on-screen keyboard and rechargeable instead of replaceable batteries. The last change is a bit of a deal killer for me, as I really liked the safety net of bringing some extra AA batteries rather than depending on some other charging source.

» As someone who takes risk assessments and compensating controls rather seriously (a by-product of another life), a light-weight survival kit is also something that should be part of your gear.

Hope you enjoyed this journal entry... In the spirit of calling for help, feel free to share this far and wide! :-)

Anil John
Founder and Curator

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